Today on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, better known as Corpus Christi, the Church rejoices in the gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament which the Second Vatican Council extolled as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11). The feast of Corpus Christi invites us to enter into the mysteries of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in a deeply personal way. Our sharing in the one bread and one cup represents our consent to share in the life of Christ, with all that involves.
We see a forecast of this “consent” in the first reading from Exodus, where we meet Moses as he and the people of Israel are at Mount Sinai, committing themselves to fulfilling the Law of the Lord which has just been given to them. They “answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything that the Lord has told us’” (Exo 24:3). Moses then builds an altar to the Lord and offers sacrifice, connecting his sacrifice to the “book of the covenant” the people had just affirmed.
Later, in the New Testament, Saint Paul described the sort of union that sharing the Eucharist forms when he wrote to the Corinthian Christian community: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). In other words, by re-presenting the Last Supper and all it signifies, we are essentially saying that we wish to be united to the entire mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Further, our union with Christ sealed through the Eucharist is a solemn one, as Paul indicates: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). This means that we should take with the greatest seriousness the gift of the Eucharist and its effects in our lives—always working toward the unity within Christ’s Body the Church that the Eucharist both anticipates and brings about.
The second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews deepens our understanding of the Eucharist by comparing it with the sacrifices that were common in Israel from early days—as we hear in Exodus—until the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The author of Hebrews wrote: “he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). The expectation of redemption afforded by the old temple sacrifices is overshadowed by the eternal and perfect redemption won by Christ.
The Epistle concludes: “For this reason [Christ] is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). Having seen how Christ initiates this new covenant we turn to the Gospel, where Saint Mark reminds us of just how this new and everlasting covenant was first presented—at the Last Supper.
As Jesus sat down with his disciples for that final meal together, he was remembering and affirming, in a way natural to his Jewish upbringing and beliefs, the covenant which Moses made at Sinai and which the people of Israel ratified. Now a new covenant is instituted, also by sacrifice, this time the sacrifice of Jesus’ own Body and Blood, bringing us full circle and completing the work of salvation which Moses foresaw.
On the feast of Corpus Christi let us give thanks for our opportunity to “eat this bread and drink this cup” and thus look forward to sharing with our risen Lord in his glory as we have shared with him in his suffering.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: Corpus Christi procession, illustration from folio 13 of the Lovell Lectionary (Harley 7026), illuminated manuscript, British Library.